Fulfilled / Complete
hose sandblasted floors and timber shingles. We recognize this place. It’s the house that Saddle Creek built. But is that an iPod on the desk? And, Jesus…is that a Pottery Barn couch? After its rise in the mid-nineties as a modest shelter for Omaha acts like Bright Eyes, Cursive, and The Faint (whose bassist Joel Peterson concerns us here today), Saddle Creek has begun to give way to modernity, or at least the claims of the computer-age. With Mike Mogis sitting lead-chair as its in-house producer, the label’s recent releases show signs of increased technological tweakery. Stew-rich synth washes and crisp electronic beats were pushed to the front on albums by Now It’s Overhead and The Elected (released on Sub Pop, but with Mogis at the helm and featuring members of SC bands Azure Ray and Rilo Kiley). I half-expect the next Bright Eyes’ effort to sound like Violator.
Not surprisingly, Mogis is behind the boards again on Broken Spindles’ Fulfilled/Complete, the side-project of The Faint’s bassist, Joel Peterson. Fans of the band will note his slight changes to their heavily-processed synthrock, as Peterson brings a melodic chill to their harsher textures. Coming two years after his instrumental debut, Peterson adds his own, Faint-caliber vocals to this release (read: screened through electrostatic shockwaves) as well as grand string arrangements that tend to make more of the work than their absence would allow. As opener “Induction” gets under way with twitching electric static, it’s tempting to write the album off immediately as another rote-computerized IDM album. Given its chance, as slow strings elevate above its chimes and anthill beats, an elegant swansong emerges that sounds designed for a restaging of Pride and Prejudice or Wings of the Dove. At these moments, Fulfilled/Complete matches its elegance to ethereal beatmaking, something far too infrequently achieved in the genre to be overlooked.
After the stabs of strings and overactive beats of “Fall in and Down On”, “Song, No Song” is an ice bath, complete with haunting Cage-ian piano plinks and somnolent tones. The keys drop like coins in a bell jar, the song eventually settling into a bewildering calm amid the run-around pacing of pianist Nate Walcott’s fingerings. The gurgle of post-classical musings and icy electronic touches is what I imagine it’s like to be on the nod; it’s difficult to force movement or thought outside its momentary grasps.
Unfortunately, after this three-track novelty act, Fulfilled/Complete comes down to earth in a decided crater-dive. William Gaddis, bless his soul, would be moved into a thousand-page tome by the rather inspired, if unsuccessful, forgeries of neo-electronic music. “To Die, For Death” sounds like the cold-turkey-Zoloft-break version of U2’s “Numb,” and “Italian Wardrobe” rides a doomsday guitar loop that’s had all the edges sanded off and the grease washed down. Peterson fails to capture the dance-hardy aggression he’s attempting (something the Faint does so well), and the combination of squeaky clean guitar lines and dogmatic political asides (“The End”) proves more gut-funny than acerbic. If the Beastie Boys can’t pull it off (AND THEY CAN’T), perhaps pop music is better left without scathing W indictments.
When album closer “The Dream” begins on its helicopter beat and coda-worthy strings, it shakes feel into the album’s dead limbs again, recalling the intrigue of its opening. The reminder comes at a cost though, and you can’t help but feel a little Gumby-ed from its by-the-book center. Electronic pop is turning blue right before our eyes, giving way to sheer numbers and unimaginative rehashings. It’s being stifled by the same voicing that brought such ingenuity to the genre several years ago, and given a sheen more Tweaker than RD James. But, why worry about such things? Shake the Pokies out of those arms and, for God’s sake, bring those legs into order. We’ve got the PB catalogue at hand and, apparently, Saddle Creek needs a Chinese medicine chest. Different questions emerge. Antique honey or mahogany?